The operators and station masters of the Underground Railroad in southern Ohio may have all opposed slavery and supported its abolition, but the antislavery movement was not united as it regarded the means of achieving their vision of an end to slavery in the United States. The moderates called for a gradual emancipation and often combined it with a proposal to remove the freed black population via colonization in Liberia on the west coast of Africa.
“Liberia was born of a white idea,” notes historian James Ciment. “The burgeoning and unwanted population of free blacks and emancipated slaves in post-Revolutionary America could be sent to Africa. The early nineteenth-century politicians who devised this idea considered it an inspired one. America could rid itself of its most ‘useless and pernicious’ class of people while simultaneously establishing a beachhead from which Africa could be civilized and Christianized.’”
Colonization, like the contemporaneous removal of the Indian nations from the southeast (think of the Trail of Tears), sprang from a racist fantasy and was embraced as a way to resolve the problem of race in the new American Republic. One can argue, for its white supporters, the central aim was not the abolition of slavery, but rather the transformation of the United States into a “white man’s republic,” not only in theory, but also in practice. For its African-American supporters, colonization was seen as a reasonable solution to the problem of racism and the realization that emancipation in America would not lead to equality and self-governance; they would be treated as second-class citizens. American racism, many concluded, would long restrict the liberties of the nation’s black population. In that sense, those African-American immigrants who sailed for Liberia by choice were seeking liberty, which was denied them in the United States. But, Liberia was also a call to missionary work on behalf of liberty and Christ. For the ambitious, Liberia opened up business and political opportunities unavailable to blacks in their native country, whether that be in the “Slave South” or the “Free North.”
In the late 1820s and early 1830s, the colonizationists faced a challenge from within their movement that sought a more radical solution to the problem of slavery. Spurred on by anti-colonizationists within the free black communities of the North, black activists helped radicalize white activists, including men like William Lloyd Garrison. The radicals, white and black, within the larger antislavery movement were the Immediate Abolitionists, those who called for an immediate end to slavery, without compensation to the masters, and without removal of the black population. They called for liberty and equality for African-Americans. The immediatists, however, were in the minority not only in the larger movement, but particularly in their home communities in southern Ohio. Nevertheless, their impact on events proved significant as they shaped the course of local, as well as national history.
Like the Underground Railroad itself, the colonization movement in southern Ohio was a biracial phenomenon; both whites and blacks worked to promote its aims, and both colonizationists and immediatists cooperated in its operation. By the mid-1830s, the controversy between the two ends of the antislavery spectrum was reaching a climax, as the more radical activists began organizing new local chapters of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS). In response, the Colonizationists made their own push to present their plan as the most practicable solution to the problem of slavery and race.
On 20 November 1836, Rev. Edward W. Peet of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church hosted a meeting of the Chillicothe Colonization Society, and its members passed resolutions supporting the efforts of the American Colonization Society (ACS), the national organization that had been founded in 1817. They asserted that “as Christian, and Philanthropists, the American Colony at Liberia on the western coast of Africa, especially appeals to us, in the most eloquent and impressive language, for our united and continued support.” They viewed the society’s efforts as a form of missionary work, claiming the colonization of former slaves who had embraced Christianity in the United States would dispel “the moral darkness and desolation of benighted Central Africa; thereby bringing millions of Savage Barbarians, into a state of hopeful civilization.” They called on the people of Chillicothe to petition Congress “for their assistance and cooperation in this great political, moral and benevolent enterprise.” The editor of the Scioto Gazette, which covered the proceedings, noted that this was only the third meeting of the society since its reorganization in 1832 and that “of all the plans for the amelioration of the colored race, it strikes us that this of colonization is the most sensible and just, and this is the opinion of some of the best men, and most enlightened statesmen of the age.” Describing “other schemes” as “obnoxious,” the Gazette declined to debate the merits of immediate abolition and instead simply stated their object was to recommend the work of the local society to “our fellow-citizens of Ross [county], confident that its aim is praiseworthy, and satisfied that its end is to use all lawful means for doing the greatest service to the sons of Africa.”
Support for colonization in Ohio dates back to the founding of the national organization. In 1818 and 1824 the Ohio legislature adopted resolutions in support of colonization efforts, recommending that Congress fund the program of the ACS.
Chillicothe’s colonization society was originally formed in 1827, immediately following the establishment of a state-wide organization in Columbus. As an affiliate of both the state and national organizations, the Chillicothe chapter worked to funnel donations and generate political support towards state level efforts, as well as to aid the national organization. Edward Tiffin, the former Governor of Ohio served as president of the Chillicothe society and among its officers and managers were area religious leaders, elected officials, and prominent businessmen. Gen. Samuel Finley and Col. Anthony Walke served as Vice-Presidents. Walke was an active Presbyterian, who served as an elder in the Chillicothe Church, and had also been elected to the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate. Finley, a Revolutionary War officer, held a high ranking position in the Ohio state militia and had been a founding member of Chillicothe’s Presbyterian Church. Among the society’s managers was William Creighton, Jr., Ohio’s first Secretary of State and the designer of the Great Seal of Ohio. Creighton was also the father-in-law of Rev. Edward W. Peet of St. Paul’s Church, who hosted the society’s meeting in November 1836. James T. Worthington, son of former Gov. Thomas Worthington, also served as a manager of the society. Worthington had his own successful political career, serving in the Ohio House of Representatives and later helping establish Ohio’s Republican Party. Nearly half of the managers were area ministers, including William Simmons, John Ferree, William Graham, Joseph Claybaugh, and J. P. Bausman.
In 1828, a year after its founding, the local society backed a resolution in the state legislature to support the efforts of colonization. Edward King, the representative for Ross County (and brother-in-law to James T. Worthington) championed the resolution and secured its passage. The local society, however, failed to thrive. In October of 1828, the board of managers reported that their local work was “well nigh abandoned” and that their efforts were treated with “cold neglect” and had been “almost forgotten.”
The members, however, appear to have carried on their work, hosting a meeting in 1829, which gained the attention of the local press. The Scioto Gazette would publish a speech from the meeting that was given by John Newton Templeton, the first black graduate of Ohio University (and the fourth black college graduate in all of American history). In his remarks Templeton noted that because slavery was “an evil which has long existed, its decline must therefore be gradual, in order that its total overthrow be permanent.” He concluded his remarks with an appeal, “O, Justice, when will you arise to avenge the rights of injured Africa! But by your benevolent acts this day, she may yet become a happy land — slavery entirely abolished — and America gain that reputation, which would otherwise be impossible.” Templeton would later settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and abandoned his support of colonization, but there is no doubt his participation in the local colonization movement confirmed the moderates’s faith in the righteousness of their cause.
The revival of the Chillicothe Colonization Society came in May of 1832, coinciding with the emergence of the immediate abolition movement. Reorganized, but retaining many of its original founders, the society would begin holding annual meetings. The meeting in 1836 came in the wake of a major controversy surrounding the establishment of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society, an affiliate of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The AASS, as well as the new state level organization, included founding members and officers from the counties of southern Ohio, including prominent members of the Chillicothe Presbytery. Revs. James Gilliland and John Rankin (both long serving members of the Presbytery) were elected Vice-Presidents of the national organization, which sent field agents into the region in hopes of organizing new local chapters. According to the society’s records, Ohio’s state organization grew from twenty chapters in 1836 to one hundred and twenty, with local societies spread throughout the state. By 1837, total membership in Ohio numbered approximately ten thousand. The most vocal and active supporters of the antislavery movement had shifted from gradualism and colonization to immediate abolition.
At the time of the Chillicothe Colonization Society’s meeting in November 1836, Edward James Roye, the son of a freed slave, who had attended Ohio University, taught a special school established for African-Americans in the city. Roye, though not mentioned in the proceedings of the Society, would have no doubt been familiar with the efforts of the local branch and his association with southern Ohio colonizationists may very well have placed him on the path of supporting their efforts in Liberia. It is noteworthy that both John Newton Templeton and Edward J. Roye were students of Rev. Robert G. Wilson at Ohio University. Wilson served as university president, but was also an officer in the Ohio State Colonization Society. Before taking his position at Ohio University, Wilson had also been the long-serving minister of Chillicothe’s Presbyterian Church. Today, Templeton and Roye are perhaps the most famous of Wilson’s students, both of whom ended up supporters of colonization. Templeton, as noted above, did ultimately join the abolitionists, Roye, on the hand, is counted among the 20,000-plus African Americans who cast their lot in Liberia. In 1846, Roye would immigrate to the colony and launch a political career that culminated in 1870 in his election as the nation’s fifth president.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which played host to the meeting in November 1836, was newly constructed at the time, having been completed in 1833. The congregation has the honor of being the first organized west of the Appalachian Mountains, with its organization dating to 24 April 1817, coincidentally the same year gradual emancipationists in Washington, D.C., had organized the American Colonization Society. The meeting of Chillicothe colonizationists in 1836 reminds us that the antislavery movement in the 1830s had divided into moderate and more radical factions — those who supported a gradual abolition via colonization as a solution to the problem of slavery and those who supported an immediate emancipation, without colonization, and equal rights for the free slaves.
Melissa Rake Calhoun, “Portraying Templeton’s Triumph: Playwright Smith brings Templeton story to the stage,” Web. https://www.ohio.edu/bicentennial/history/tributes/freeman.cfm
“Chillicothe Colonization Society,” The African Repository and Colonial Journal (September 1827).
James Ciment, Another America: The Story of Liberia and the Former Slaves Who Ruled It (New York: Hill and Wang, 2013).
“Colonization Meeting,” Scioto Gazette (7 December 1836).
Lyle S. Evans, A Standard History of Ross County, Ohio (Chicago and New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1917).
Scioto Gazette (26 November 1828).
John Newton Templeton, “Negro Eloquence” Scioto Gazette (22 July 1929).
Edward Tiffin, “Moral & Religious Circular,” Scioto Gazette (12 May 1827).
“Third Meeting of the Chillicothe Colonization Society Was Held at the Episcopal Church,” Scioto Gazette (23 November 1836).
“Ohio Anti-Slavery Society,” Ohio History Central, Ohio History Connection. Web. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Ohio_Anti-Slavery_Society
Phil A. Waite, “Edward Jenkins Roye: Liberia’s Fifth President.” Web. http://personal.denison.edu/~waite/liberia/history/roye.htm